Mike Scioscia manned the south corner of the home dugout at Angel Stadium for nearly two decades.
Through the final stages of a 15-year playoff drought, through a World Series championship, through three consecutive losing seasons, Scioscia stood there, steadfast and unwavering through most of his 3,078 games guiding the Angels.
But on Sunday afternoon, Scioscia finally stepped back. He told friend Alfredo Griffin, the only coach remaining from the first staff Scioscia helped put together in 2000, that Griffin would take over managerial duties for part of the day. Then he turned around.
Hours before it became public knowledge that he will not return for a 20th season as Angels manager, Scioscia retreated to a bench and reveled in the final day of his tenure in Anaheim. He enjoyed the company of his players, the encouragement from his coaching staff and the end of the most historic managerial career in Angels history.
Griffin, Josh Paul and Dino Ebel took turns standing in Scioscia’s spot, pulling the strings on the way to the Angels’ ninth-inning rally for a walkoff victory. They beat the Oakland Athletics 5-4 on rookie Taylor Ward’s home run.
Pyrotechnics exploded in center field. The Angels charged the plate. The stadium rocked with cheers.
About 20 minutes after his 1,650th victory and fighting an uncharacteristic public display of emotion, Scioscia laughed.
“I had nothing to do with today,” he said. “Nothing to do with the lineup. Nothing to do with the pitching changes. Hence, that’s probably why we won.”
But he had so much more to do with everything else.
Scioscia helped turn a club viewed as a national laughingstock into a perennial contender. Over 19 seasons, he guided the likes of Vladimir Guerrero, David Eckstein, Chone Figgins, Jered Weaver and Torii Hunter. He witnessed the historic rookie campaigns of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. He suffered the anguish of losing a player in Nick Adenhart, and he celebrated the triumphs of Albert Pujols’ milestones.
So Scioscia spent 10 minutes reminiscing about those players and his time in Anaheim as he sat on the dais in the ground-level interview room.
He shook off the persistent interruptions of a reporter’s ringing cellphone — “Is that an iPhone that doesn’t have an off switch? When’s the battery out?” — to make sure he thanked everyone he could. He wiped tears off his cheeks as Trout, Justin Upton and Kole Calhoun sneaked into the room and watched from the second row. He reiterated his love for baseball and his desire to manage again, should an opportunity present itself.
And Scioscia came to grips with the end.
“In this game you never know if, where or when an opportunity comes and I’m fine with that,” said Scioscia, who turns 60 in November. “If something comes and I get another chance, great. If not, believe me, I’m gonna take the great experience I had here.”
The last four seasons haven’t met expectation. Ohtani’s arrival, Upton’s decision to sign with the Angels through 2022 or Trout’s best overall season didn’t allow the Angels to end a playoff drought at four seasons. They finished 80-82 for the second year in a row. The combination of disappointing results and the expiration of Scioscia’s 10-year contract likely helped to usher in a new era of Angels baseball.
Who will replace Scioscia is tough to predict. On the list of candidates for general manager Billy Eppler to consider are special assistants Eric Chavez and Brad Ausmus, and bench coach Paul. Eppler also will likely interview people outside of the organization. The process can drag on for months.
At any rate, Scioscia leaves behind a legacy that, in an age of managerial carousels, will be hard to outrank.
“The passion he had for the game, to win,” Trout said. “Him and the coaches, he always put the players in a great position to succeed. I can’t thank him enough.”